Posts Tagged ‘Devin Harris’

Houston, L.A. And Dallas Post-Dwight


HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – The dust is settling and rosters emerging after the biggest free-agent move of the summer came down one week ago. Dwight Howard has positioned the Houston Rockets as Western Conference contenders while creating altered realities for the Los Angeles Lakers and Dallas Mavericks.

Because of their high-priced payroll, the Lakers have limited flexibility to strengthen their roster for the 2013-14 season. To lessen some of its financial burden, L.A. made it official on Thursday that it will use the amnesty provision to cut loose Metta World Peace, a move that Kobe Bryant made clear he’s not thrilled with on Twitter:

Had Howard remained with the Lakers, Pau Gasol might have been on the wrong end of the amnesty, but now he’ll be the Lakers starting center. L.A. has added Nick Young, Chris Kaman and Jordan Farmar to a roster that certainly has talent, but isn’t even expected to make the playoffs by some. 

The Mavs will scale a considerable mountain to not be lottery-bound in consecutive seasons. Dallas missed out on Deron Williams a year ago and watched Dwight pick their division rivals this time around. To make Mavs fans feel even worse, Andre Iguodala told the San Francisco Chronicle that he almost signed with Dallas an hour before committing to the Golden State Warriors. Dallas met with Andrew Bynum, but passed on making an offer.

Dallas was extremely high on Iguodala as an anchor for the future with Dirk Nowitzki in the case that Howard said no. The Mavs are in difficult spot now with a hodgepodge, guard-heavy roster that bears almost no resemblance to last season’s team that failed to make the playoffs for the first time in 13 years. It includes newcomers Jose Calderon, Devin Harris, Wayne Ellington and a couple of rookies in Shane Larkin and Israeli free-agent Gal Mekel.

At least Nowitzki kept a sense of humor after missing out on the prime DH target and signing another one:

Meanwhile in Houston, with Howard joining All-Star guard James Harden and emerging sharpshooter Chandler Parsons, the front office went to work to add more shooters around their new center, bringing back Francisco Garcia and agreeing to a deal with Reggie Williams.

Here’s how the Rockets, Lakers and Mavericks have filled out their rosters and who else each might be looking at:


PG: Jeremy Lin, Patrick Beverley, Isaiah Canaan

SG: James Harden, Francisco Garcia, Reggie Williams, James Anderson

SF: Chandler Parsons, Omri Casspi

PF: Greg Smith, Terrance Jones

C: Dwight Howard, Omer Asik, Donatas Motiejunas

Possibilities: Trade Lin and/or Asik


PG: Steve Nash, Steve Blake, Jordan Farmar

SG: Kobe Bryant, Jodie Meeks

SF: Nick Young, Chris Douglas-Roberts

PF: Jordan Hill, Ryan Kelly

C: Pau Gasol, Chris Kaman, Robert Sacre

Possibles: Lamar Odom, Sasha Vujacic


PG: Jose Calderon, Gal Mekel, Shane Larkin

SG: Devin Harris, Vince Carter, Wayne Ellington, Ricky Ledo

SF: Shawn Marion, Jae Crowder

PF: Dirk Nowitzki

C: Bernard James

Possibles: C Samuel Dalembert; C Greg Oden; C/F Brandan Wright; F/C Elton Brand

Busy Saturday Of Free-Agent Deals


HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – Plenty of free-agent action swept through the Association on Saturday, headlined by power forward Josh Smith going to the Detroit Pistons and cashing in on the type of contract he’s dreamed about.

Others also reached verbal agreements with new teams, but keep in mind none of these deals become official until Wednesday when the league’s moratorium on signing new contracts and finalizing proposed trades is lifted.

Some of the other notable activity from Saturday:

  • Earl Watson agreed to a one-year, $1.4 million deal with the Portland Trail Blazers.

2013 Free Agents: The Numbers


HANG TIME NEW JERSEY – At 12:01 a.m. ET on Monday, 144 free agents became available. While there are some big names at the top of the list, it’s not the deepest free-agent class we’ve seen.

Only two 2013 All-Stars — Chris Paul and Dwight Howard — are on the market. Only 19 of the 144 free agents scored at least 1,000 points last season, and only 11 started at least 50 games for a playoff team. One of those 11, of course, was Paul, who took himself off the market pretty quickly.

Two of the other 10 — Monta Ellis and Brandon Jennings — started for the 38-44 Milwaukee Bucks. Jennings was a minus-289 last season. The other eight: Howard, Tony Allen, Andre Iguodala, Kyle Korver, Josh Smith, Tiago Splitter, Jeff Teague and David West.

Jennings’ minus-289 was not the worst mark of available free agents. That belongs to Byron Mullens, who was a minus-419 (in only 1,428 minutes) for the Bobcats last season. Mullens’ teammate Gerald Henderson was a minus-402.

The Bobcats were pretty awful whether or not Henderson was on the floor. The Bucks were pretty good (+6.9 points per 100 possessions) with Jennings on the bench and pretty bad (-4.4) with him in the game. His on-off-court differential of 11.2 points per 100 possessions was the worst among free agents who played at least 1,000 minutes with a single team last season.

Worst on-off-court NetRtg differential among free agents

Player Min. On NetRtg On NetRtg Off Diff.
Brandon Jennings 2,896 -4.4 +6.9 -11.2
D.J. Augustin 1,226 -1.1 +7.8 -8.9
Byron Mullens 1,428 -16.2 -7.4 -8.8
Tyler Hansbrough 1,366 -0.6 +8.0 -8.6
Al Jefferson 2,578 -3.5 +4.3 -7.8

Minimum 1,000 minutes with a single team
NetRtg = Team point differential per 100 possessions

On the opposite end of the spectrum was Devin Harris, whose Hawks were 10.0 points per 100 possessions better when he was on the floor than when he was on the bench.

Best on-off-court NetRtg differential among free agents

Player Min. On NetRtg On NetRtg Off Diff.
Devin Harris 1,421 +7.3 -2.7 +10.0
David West 2,435 +8.5 -0.9 +9.4
DeMarre Carroll 1,111 +5.4 -3.1 +8.4
Kyle Korver 2,259 +4.4 -3.7 +8.0
Brandan Wright 1,149 +5.1 -2.6 +7.7

Minimum 1,000 minutes with a single team

It shouldn’t be any surprise that, on offense, Paul was the biggest difference maker of the 145 free agents …

Best on-off-court OffRtg differential among free agents

Player Min. On OffRtg On OffRtg Off Diff.
Chris Paul 2,335 112.1 101.3 +10.8
David West 2,435 104.9 96.1 +8.8
J.J. Redick (ORL) 1,575 103.7 95.3 +8.4
Kyle Korver 2,259 105.7 98.8 +6.8
Roger Mason Jr. 1,218 107.2 100.6 +6.6

Minimum 1,000 minutes
OffRtg = Team points scored per 100 possessions

And it’s no surprise that the Lakers were much better defensively with Howard on the floor, or that the Grizzlies got more stops with Tony Allen in the game. Lamar Odom‘s DefRtg differential, combined with Paul topping the list above, makes it clear that the Clippers were an offensive team with their starters in the game and a defensive unit when they went to their bench.

Best on-off-court DefRtg differential among free agents

Player Min. On DefRtg On DefRtg Off Diff.
Lamar Odom 1,616 95.4 104.9 -9.5
Tony Allen 2,109 94.3 101.1 -6.8
Tiago Splitter 1,997 96.1 102.3 -6.3
Devin Harris 1,421 97.9 104.1 -6.2
Dwight Howard 2,722 101.7 107.8 -6.0

Minimum 1,000 minutes with a single team
DefRtg = Team points allowed per 100 possessions

Redick was a big difference maker on offense with Orlando, in part, because he shot 39 percent from 3-point range and helped spread the floor. But he shot just 32 percent from beyond the arc after being traded to Milwaukee and isn’t among the top 10 3-point shooters among free agents…

Highest 3-point percentage among free agents

Player 3PM 3PA 3PT% 3PA%
Jose Calderon 130 282 46.1% 44.4%
Kyle Korver 189 414 45.7% 68.9%
Mike Dunleavy 128 299 42.8% 47.9%
Kevin Martin 158 371 42.6% 47.7%
Martell Webster 139 329 42.2% 51.7%
Chris Copeland 59 140 42.1% 36.8%
Roger Mason Jr. 66 159 41.5% 52.1%
C.J. Watson 88 214 41.1% 46.6%
Randy Foye 178 434 41.0% 58.8%
O.J. Mayo 142 349 40.7% 34.0%

Minimum 100 3PA
3PA% = 3PA/FGA

Howard ranked second among free agents in rebounding percentage, only topped by J.J. Hickson

Highest REB% among free agents

J.J. Hickson 2,323 13.1% 28.0% 20.5%
Dwight Howard 2,722 10.6% 27.5% 19.3%
Zaza Pachulia 1,134 13.9% 21.5% 17.7%
Marreese Speights 1,300 12.6% 22.8% 17.4%
Lamar Odom 1,616 8.6% 25.2% 17.2%

Minimum 1,000 minutes
OREB% = Percentage of available offensive rebounds grabbed
DREB% = Percentage of available defensive rebounds grabbed
REB% = Percentage of available total rebounds grabbed

There are a good amount of distributors on the market, including a couple of guys who had more assists than field goal attempts last season…

Highest ASTRatio among free agents

Player MIN FGA AST TO ASTRatio TORatio
Jamaal Tinsley 1,221 234 290 106 45.2 16.53
Pablo Prigioni 1,263 220 236 86 42.7 15.55
Jose Calderon 2,159 635 518 126 39.4 9.59
Chris Paul 2,335 856 678 159 36.9 8.66
Beno Udrih 1,457 476 302 108 32.4 11.60

Minimum 1,000 minutes
ASTRatio = Percentage of possessions ending in an assist
TORatio = Percentage of possessions ending in an turnover

Paul doesn’t only dish dimes, but he’s pretty good at getting himself to the free throw line, ranking fourth among non-big (PG, SG, SF) free agents in free throw rate…

Highest FTA Rate among non-big free agents

Andrei Kirilenko 560 188 250 75.2% .446
Manu Ginobili 539 164 206 79.6% .382
Darren Collison 724 242 275 88.0% .380
Chris Paul 856 286 323 88.5% .377
Gerald Henderson 855 258 313 82.4% .366

Minimum 500 FGA

Smith Fuels Hawks As They Pull Even With Pacers

ATLANTA – The battles rages on between “Good Josh [Smith]” and “Bad Josh.”

The duel between the enigmatic and energetic sides of the Atlanta Hawks’ mercurial star was on full display in what could easily serve as a case study of his game, the Hawks’ season-saving 102-91 Game 4 win over the Indiana Pacers that evened their first round playoff series at two games each Monday night at Philips Arena.

Hawks fans are used to this reality show, cheering Smith wildly when he makes a spectacular play and then jeering him seconds later when he parks at the 3-point line for a 3-pointer no one else in the building wants him to take. It’s a surreal atmosphere, one you have to witness for yourself to comprehend just how peculiar it can be.

It’s gone on like this the better part of the last nine years, Hawks fans reaching for their blood pressure medicine one second and then leaping out of their seats the next. It’s a love-hate relationship with one of their own that Oklahoma City Thunder fans have developed with All-Star point guard Russell Westbrook, only Westbrook isn’t hearing it from a crowd of fans in his hometown of Los Angeles.

Smith doesn’t flinch, no matter how loud the crowd gets. And they rode the emotional roller coaster with him on this night, play after crazy play from start to finish as Smith scored a career playoff-high 29 points with 11 rebounds, four assists and three steals. It was his first 25-point, 10-rebound playoff game and came in his 50th postseason appearance, a nice robust number for a player who continues to confound not only the fans but some of his teammates as well.

“This was definitely one of those ‘ooh, aah’ moments with Josh,” Al Horford said. “He gives you those ‘oohs’ and then those ‘aahs.’ It’s kind of a ‘Yes’ and then ‘No’ thing going on. That’s the way it is. I think [the fans] obviously want Josh to be successful. Everybody loves him here. Sometimes we do question his shot selection. But tonight he hit some big shots down the stretch, made some huge plays for other guys down the stretch and made plays to help us win this game. I know it might drive some people a little crazy. But it works for us and that’s just the way it is.”

The fans stayed on for the good and bad Monday night, pulling their hair out in the third quarter as he missed all six of his shots from the floor, including all three of his 3-point attempts,  and just half of his 12 free throws as the Hawks’ 18-point lead shrunk to just four late in the quarter.

That same crowd rose to their feet in the final tense moments of the game. Smith scored seven of his 29 points in the fourth quarter, shot 3-for-4 from the floor, dished out three assists, grabbed two crucial rebounds and blocked a shot. His 3-pointer with 3:08 to play pushed the Hawks’ lead to 89-81. His rebound of a Horford miss with the Hawks’ clinging to an 89-83 lead was followed by a no-look pass to Kyle Korver on the wing for the 3-point dagger that pushed the lead to nine with 2:33 to play and muted any chance the Pacers had of coming back.

“That was the biggest play of the game right there,” Horford said. “He was aware enough to find Kyle and Kyle had a clean look and knocked it down. That’s what it’s all about right there.”

Korver was huge off the bench, scoring 19 points and draining five of his eight shots from beyond the 3-point line. Anthony Tolliver nailed all three of his 3-pointers, too, helping Smith blow the game open during a 35-19 run while Horford was in foul trouble and on the bench for all but three minutes of the quarter.

“Tolliver and Korver really lit us up,” Pacers coach Frank Vogel said. “We have to do a better job closing out on those guys so they don’t get going early.”

The Hawks shooters got going because Smith was cooking, inside and out (he scored 10 points in the quarter) and controlling the action (he also had five rebounds). Toss in his defensive work on Pacers All-Star Paul George in Games 3 and 4, a series-changing adjustment from Hawks coach Larry Drew, and it’s clear that Smith is one of the main reasons Hawks fans will get a chance to see Game 6 here Friday night.

“I thought Josh Smith played a phenomenal game,” Drew said. “It was a challenge trying to defend Paul George and he took the challenge.”

Smith has never shied away from those challenges, same as he’s never wavered in his confidence in his own abilities to do the things people assume he can’t or better yet shouldn’t, in certain situations. It’s the beauty and the curse of his game. It’s also a quality you have to see up close to appreciate, according to Hawks guard Devin Harris, who couldn’t help but smile when asked about his first year watching Smith deal with the love-hate dynamic from the hometown fans.

“I think that’s just Atlanta. And him being here, being from here, that just a unique relationship they have with one another,” Harris said. “I thought he was dialed in from (minute) one tonight. He just piggybacked from what he did in Game 3 and was a force for us. When he plays like that, we’re a very good team.”

A team that gave the Pacers fits yet again, beating them for the 13th straight time at Philips Arena. A team capable of perhaps winning this series, though the Hawks will have to win a game in Indianapolis to do so. Smith is confident, even if others are not, as he should be. For all the hate that comes his way, Smith will finish his ninth season in elite company. He passed Kevin Willis for fourth place on the Hawks’ all-time postseason games played list. He’s also one of just four players in NBA history to have 10,000 points, 5,000 rebounds and 1,400 blocks at 27, joining Shaquille O’Neal, Dwight Howard and Hakeem Olajuwon.

“Energy and effort,” Smith said of the things the Hawks need to take with them for Game 5 Wednesday night. “If we play with those things and play together … that’s what it will take for us to compete up there in arena.”

There will only be jeers up there for Josh … good or bad.

Hawks Bow Up And Bounce Pacers


ATLANTA – If the Hawks were looking for a bruiser, a goon, a bona-fide lip buster even, they could have found someone who fit the profile better than Jeff Teague.

Ivan Johnson, Johan Petro, Mike Scott, DeShawn Stevenson and Dahntay Jones would all get the part over Teague in an open casting call for the role of NBA enforcer. The wiry strong but slight Teague would get laughed out of the audition.

Yet there he was Saturday night at Philips Arena, delivering the symbolic and very real elbow to the back of Indiana Pacers’ bully David West, with seven minutes to play in the first half of a game the Hawks dominated from three minutes in until the finish. Their 90-69 blowout win in Game 3 of this first playoff series not only allowed the Hawks the bounce back effort needed after two rough road losses to start the postseason, but also served as a statement game for Teague and his teammates.

They were up 21 when West shoved Al Horford to the ground on a fast break, earning a Flagrant 1 foul for his lick. Something had to be done. Teague knew it and didn’t hesitate. His instincts just kicked in.

“Well, kinda” he said, rubbing his low-cut mohawk. “I thought the play he made wasn’t right. So I had to let him know we were going to be there, that we’re not going to back down from anybody. I think that’s the same way they play. They try to be very physical and tough about it. And David West is a strong guy. He plays hard and plays physical. But I think we met the challenge tonight.”

For this one night the Hawks did exactly that, extending the Pacers’ losing streak at Philips Arena to 12 straight games, regular and postseason combined.

The Hawks held the Pacers to a new franchise playoff low 27-percent shooting, the previous low set against the Pacers in 1994. The 30 points they allowed in the first half sets a new franchise playoff record, and the 69 points allowed in the game is tied for the second-lowest mark in franchise playoff history.

Horford dusted himself off after that shove from West and roasted the Pacers for career-playoff highs in points (26) and assists (16), joining Dikembe Mutombo and Moses Malone as the only Hawks since the 1986-87 season to 25 or more points and 15 or more rebounds in a playoff game.

The Hawks used a 42-10 run to stagger the Pacers in a fight that was over by halftime. Hawks coach Larry Drew made his adjustment, a lineup change for the bigger with Petro instead of Kyle Korver, and Josh Smith locked in defensively on Pacers All-Star Paul George — it worked to perfection.

But the biggest adjustment was in attitude. They refused to be pushed around for a third straight game by West, Roy Hibbert and the rest of the Pacers.

Horford couldn’t believe it when he realized that it realized that Teague was the first responder on that shove from West.

For the record, Horford said he thought West’s play was a hard foul but not anything dirty. It wouldn’t have mattered by then anyway. The Hawks left Indianapolis desperate for a win; desperate to show their home crowd that the team they saw on screen in Games 1 and 2 was not the team that would show up for this one; desperate to shut up the critics who bash them, rightfully mind you, for being such an inconsistent bunch.

Horford said he was going to work the way he did Saturday night no matter what anyone else said or tried to do about it.

“I was just being aggressive, playing with a lot of energy,” he said, crediting the circumstance and the late-arriving but raucous home crowd equally for energizing his team. “My teammates did a good job time and time again of getting me easy baskets. They were finding me whether it was off help or drive and kick. Defensively, I just wanted to set the tone and be more aggressive. I go out there with that same mindset every game. Tonight, I had to step up and make some plays on the offensive end.”

Smith served in a similar capacity on the defensive end, limiting George’s opportunities and effectiveness early by confining the Pacers’ best offensive player to a small patch of real estate on the wing and limiting his forays into the paint to a minimum.

“I just tried to keep a body on him, knowing and understanding that he is the focal point on the perimeter, as far as what they do offensively,” Smith said. “I just tried to stay engaged, tried to be elusive a little bit as far as pin downs were concerned. That was pretty much the game plan.”

Teague and Devin Harris did their part, too, thoroughly outplaying their counterparts in blue (George Hill and Lance Stephenson) on a night when the Hawks’ starters combined to shoot just 6-for-26 from the floor.

“This team has done something it’s done all year long, and that’s respond,” Drew said. “After two losses in Indiana, and coming home … I really felt we would respond. We came out early and the energy was there. We had some guys that played tremendous tonight. It all started with Josh Smith. I thought his effort on Paul George really set the tone for the game. George is such a terrific player. He’s really elusive off the dribble, and to throw a guy like Josh, who has the versatility to defend all five positions … I thought Josh really set the tone.

“The other guy I thought did a phenomenal job defensive was Jeff Teague. He got a couple of fouls early, but I thought he did a really good job in defending George Hill. The first two games of the series, George Hill has really played well. He’s shot the ball extremely well, but tonight I thought our guys took the defensive challenge. Our defense was the thing that really got us going.”

The defense, energy, resilience and refusal of at least one man to see the Pacers kick sand in the Hawks faces anymore. The Hawks shut the Pacers down offensively and turned them over (22 for 24 points) enough to blow the game open and keep West, Hibbert and George from capitalizing on their obvious size advantage.

“I thought they beat us at each position tonight; not with the different lineup that they played,” Pacers coach Frank Vogel said. “We didn’t take care of the ball very well. When you don’t screen with physicality and you don’t separate out of those screens, and don’t execute your sets, and let the other team take your airspace, it’s going to leave you with a poor shooting night and a lot of turnovers.”

Wherever the physicality of the series goes from here, Game 4 Monday night promises to be another bruiser, Smith insists the Hawks are ready.

“Yeah, it’s the playoffs. Adrenaline is flowing and emotions are running high,” he said. “It is going to get a little chippy, especially down there in the paint. The bigs for Indiana, they play a physical game and all we’re trying to do is match their physicality and exceed it a little bit. We’re not backing down from anything and it should be a pretty good series.”

We know Teague is already locked in and ready to go.

“We’re not backing down from anybody,” Teague said, “No matter what.”

Series Hub: Pacers vs. Hawks

The Numbers On The East Playoffs

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY – The playoffs are here. And to get you ready, we’ve got statistical nuggets for each series, courtesy of

Eastern Conference basketball was slower and less efficient than Western Conference hoops. Five of the eight East playoff teams ranked in the bottom eight in pace, while four of the eight ranked in the top seven in defensive efficiency.

Yet, a couple of these series (Knicks-Celtics and Nets-Bulls) can be seen as offense vs. defense.

Pace: Possessions per 48 minutes (League Rank)
OffRtg: Points scored per 100 possessions (League Rank)
DefRtg: Points allowed per 100 possessions (League Rank)
NetRtg: Point differential per 100 possessions (League Rank)
The league averaged 94.4 possessions (per team) per 48 minutes and 103.1 points scored per 100 possessions.

Miami (1) vs. Milwaukee (8)

Miami Heat (66-16)
Pace: 93.0 (23)
OffRtg: 110.3 (1)
DefRtg: 100.5 (7)
NetRtg: +9.9 (2)

Overall: Team stats | Player stats | Lineups
vs. Milwaukee: Team stats | Player stats | Lineups

Milwaukee Bucks (38-44)
Pace: 97.3 (3)
OffRtg: 100.9 (21)
DefRtg: 102.3 (12)
NetRtg: -1.4 (18)

Overall: Team stats | Player stats | Lineups
vs. Miami: Team stats | Player stats | Lineups

Five notes:

New York (2) vs. Boston (7)

New York Knicks (54-28)
Pace: 92.0 (26)
OffRtg: 108.6 (3)
DefRtg: 103.5 (17)
NetRtg: +5.1 (6)

Overall: Team stats | Player stats | Lineups
vs. Boston: Team stats | Player stats | Lineups

Boston Celtics (41-40)
Pace: 94.0 (17)
OffRtg: 101.1 (20)
DefRtg: 100.4 (6)
NetRtg: +0.7 (14)

Overall: Team stats | Player stats | Lineups
vs. New York: Team stats | Player stats | Lineups

Five notes:

Hapless Hawks Nosediving In New Year

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – The timing couldn’t be any worse.

Struggling through their ugliest stretch of the season, including Monday’s night’s horrific and his historically bad scoring effort in a loss to the Chicago Bulls, the Atlanta Hawks are set to host their former franchise player and six-time All-Star, Joe Johnson, and the surging Brooklyn Nets Wednesday night (7:30 ET, League Pass) at Philips Arena.

Losers of seven of their last nine games, the Hawks are losing their grip on what was, two weeks ago, a comfortable top-three position in the Eastern Conference playoff chase. The humiliating 97-58 loss to the Bulls has to be the low-point. The Hawks scored just five (yes, five!) points in the second quarter. It was the Hawks’ second fewest points scored in a game in the shot-clock era and punctuated their fifth straight road loss.

When your coach speaks the way Larry Drew did after the game, as the Atlanta Journal-Constitution‘s Chris Vivlamore reports …

“The disturbing thing is the effort part. I shouldn’t have to come out and coach effort every single night. Effort is what you’re being paid, to bring effort every single night. Maybe it’s the chemistry right now,” Drew said. “I’m going to have to do something to kind of jump-start us again.

“Right now we’ve flatlined. Not just from a physical standpoint. Mentally we have flattened. I’ve got to find a way to resuscitate this team.”

… it’s officially time to start worrying that your 21-16 record will get flipped in the coming weeks.

This is certainly not the sort of mood the Hawks were hoping for in their welcome back game with Johnson and the Nets.

Much was made of his departure, via trade last summer, barely a week into the Danny Ferry era. Ferry was celebrated for getting rid of Johnson’s monstrous contract (as well of that of Marvin Williams in a separate deal with Utah) and freeing up the Hawks’ funds for what could potentially be a huge free agent summer of 2013.

For a while, it seemed that Drew and the frontcourt tandem of Josh Smith and All-Star Al Horford could do the unthinkable and lead the Hawks back to the top of the Eastern Conference standings without their All-Star workhorse. But that was before their current skid, where an assortment of injuries and other issues have combined to stall that effort.

Instead of plotting a course to move up the standings in the New (calendar) Year, the Hawks are struggling to stay afloat while the Bulls, Indiana Pacers, Nets and Boston Celtics are all getting back into a groove.

The Hawks looked like a borderline playoff team before the season began. Their strong early season start gave me pause and made me rethink that stance for a minute. But the first impression of this team turns out to be the lasting one.

Drew better administer CPR quickly, because the upcoming schedule doesn’t ease up. Back-to-back home and road games against the Nets are followed by home games against the San Antonio Spurs and Minnesota Timberwolves, a road game against Charlotte. A road game against the New York Knicks is sandwiched between home dates against the Celtics and Toronto Raptors to finish off the month.

If the Hawks don’t clean up the mess within those next eight games, the first month of the year might very well do them in!

Avery Johnson Runs Cold With Point Guards

HANGTIME SOUTHWEST – Avery Johnson keeps striking out with point guards, the position he loved to play and eventually thrived as a hard-nosed underdog.

The scorecard lists three point guards now that haven’t seen eye-to-eye with the Little General. One got traded away and the next two have played roles in him twice being fired.

On Thursday, the Brooklyn Nets did the deed, just 28 games into Johnson’s third season and little more than a week since struggling Deron Williams openly complained that Johnson’s system wasn’t doing him any favors. Williams pined for the old days in Utah with Jerry Sloan, the same coach with whom he became combative and drove into mid-season retirement two years ago.

Johnson’s trying times with point guards goes back to 2007. In July, three months after Johnson’s 67-win Dallas Mavericks were humiliated in the first round by the Golden State Warriors, Johnson elevated Devin Harris, the fifth overall pick in 2004, to starting point guard and shifted Jason Terry to shooting guard.

Johnson and Harris met up in Las Vegas, where the Mavs’ summer-league team was playing, for an intensive few days on the court, one-on-one. The two had already developed an interesting relationship, sort of like the demanding father and the son who can’t please him no matter what, or the hard-nosed college coach determined to ride his prized pupil until he emotionally cracks.

“Yes, he does push me. Yes, I don’t think that’s ever going to change. Yes, I probably get yelled at the most,” Harris said during a late-night interview back then in Vegas. “But I’ve learned to deal with it. I’ve learned to cope with it, and it’s good.”

Here’s how Johnson viewed their dynamic.

“The problem with him is he was born a point guard and he has a former point guard [as his coach] who has played at all levels and has won at all levels,” Johnson said. “That’s a big problem for him because I see plays before they happen. I see things develop and that’s a big problem for him, me being his coach and having played the position.”

Johnson then explained his shifting strategy with Harris. It’s not without irony.

“The experiment with me trying to make him Jason Kidd, that’s not his game,” Johnson said. “We have an idea now exactly who he is and I think we can maximize him being a certain type of point guard. He has a chance to be in that mold of a [Tony] Parker or even a Kevin Johnson.”

Seven months later, with Dirk Nowitzki weary of Harris’ inability to create open shots for him in Johnson’s iso-heavy offense, the Mavs traded Harris to the New Jersey Nets for Kidd.

Five games in and the Johnson-Kidd relationship went south. Down two points with 34 seconds left in San Antonio, Johnson called timeout and sat Kidd. A frenzied possession ensued and Dallas lost. Johnson said he leaned on players familiar with his system. Kidd would call getting yanked in the clutch “a first” and “maybe the biggest thing that stands out” during his short time with Johnson.

Less than three months later, Mavs owner Mark Cuban fired Johnson before the team plane had made it back from New Orleans where Dallas bowed out of the first round in five games. One reason for change was to bring in a coach and offense better suited for Kidd to orchestrate.

So Williams makes three. He complained of Johnson’s iso-heavy system and pined for Sloan’s pick-and-rolls and the kind of movement in the half court Williams said he grew up playing in high school and then at Illinois.

Some suggest that Williams’ criticisms of Johnson were meant more as praise for Sloan, driven by lingering guilt over his old coach’s surprising resignation (Williams was traded to the Nets two weeks later).

Williams’ comments come with some truth. Johnson is rigid and his offense can be unimaginative. He attempted to bend, saying that some 30 percent of the Nets’ offense was borrowed from what Williams ran under Sloan, yet it didn’t show up in Williams’ suffering shooting percentages.

Williams could have signed with his hometown Mavs and led coach Rick Carlisle‘s “flow” offense, the one Williams’ close friend Kidd captained to the 2011 championship.

But Williams said he liked what was going on in Brooklyn better. Out of excuses, Williams now shoulders the Nets’ burden.

It’s hard to say when Johnson will get his next opportunity. When he does, he’ll have to take a hard look at his offense and even deeper introspection into how he communicates with his point guard.

As Johnson knows, they can be a stubborn and hard-headed lot. But he can’t win without one being an extension of himself.

Mo Heating Up From 3-Point Range


HANGTIME SOUTHWEST – Mo Williams needed that one.

Acquired by the Utah Jazz to bury 3-pointers, Williams hasn’t been doing it with any regularity. In fact, Wednesday night against the West-leading San Antonio Spurs, Williams had missed all three of his attempts, including one with 9.9 seconds left, only to be saved by a Paul Millsap rebound.

Timeout. Williams now had only had 6.7 seconds of regulation left to redeem himself.

Did he ever.

Williams indeed buried his fourth attempt from a few feet behind the arc and with Danny Green‘s hand in his face. The buzzer sounded, the crowd went berserk and Williams was mobbed by his teammates. The Jazz had shot down the Spurs 99-96 for a fourth consecutive win to get to 13-10 and 9-1 at home.

Of course, it was the Spurs who swept the 3-point-deficient Jazz in the first round last season under a barrage of 3-pointers and then swept Williams’ Clippers in the second round.

“It’s big,” Williams said after the game. “I’ve got a lot of respect for their organization. They’ve been [winning] for a long time, an organization you try to model yourself after, but at the same time you don’t want to be the step brother forever.”

It’s bigger on a personal level for Williams, who has begun to lift his sagging 3-point percentage over the last six games, going 10-for-21 (47.6 percent). Before that it took him 10 games to make 10 3-pointers, a span in which he went 10-for-36 (27.7 percent).

For much of the season, he’s been stuck around 32 percent from the arc, well below Williams’ 38.6 career percentage. His recent run has boosted him to 36.6 percent.

Jazz coach Ty Corbin could have called on Randy Foye to take the final shot. Foye, after all, leads the team from behind the arc at 43.7 percent.

Instead the call went to Williams, and Wednesday’s game-winner was no gimme. Williams handled the ball on the right wing, a few feet behind the arc with Green, who has long arms and at 6-foot-6 is five inches taller than Williams, in good defensive position.

Still, Williams stepped up and rose over Green with about 1.8 seconds to go. The ball splashed through the net as the buzzer went off.

Remember, Williams agreed during the summer to allow the Clippers to trade him to Utah, the team that drafted him in the second round in 2003. The Clips wanted to open space to deal for Lamar Odom from the fed-up Dallas Mavericks. The Jazz wanted Williams over Devin Harris, a mediocre perimeter shooter.

Williams, part of a backcourt logjam in L.A., came to Utah to run the point and bang 3-pointers. He’s been warming up from out there, and although he was just 1-for-4 against the Spurs, he hit the big one, the one he really needed.

“It showed how much my teammates believe in me, showed how much the coaches believe in me,” Williams said. “It was a tough night shooting for me, missed a couple shots down the stretch that I felt good about. They came back to me and it shows how much confidence they have in me.”

Early Run Of Injuries Taking Its Toll

HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – The Dallas Mavericks signed journeyman big man Eddy Curry out of desperation at the center position with Chris Kaman injured. When he returned, Dallas cut Curry and signed out-of-work Troy Murphy because power forward took top billing on the depth chart with Dirk Nowitzki rehabbing from surgery.

The Minnesota Timberwolves, down four starters and six rotation players to injury, signed Josh Howard off the street Thursday. The Toronto Raptors are reportedly looking into unemployed 3-point shooter Mickael Pietrus to plug into their injury-depleted roster.

Entering just the third week of the 2012-13 season, injuries — many to some of the game’s biggest and brightest stars — are the overwhelming story line as overworked team medical staffs are on 24-hour notice.

Both conferences can field a veritable All-Star team, position-by-position, of players that have recently returned from injury, were injured prior to the season or are injured now.

The West: Steve Nash, Ricky Rubio, Eric Gordon, Shawn Marion, Chauncey Billups, Kevin Love, Nowitzki, Andrew Bogut.

The East: Derrick Rose, Rajon Rondo, John Wall, Kyle Lowry, Dwyane Wade, Danny Granger, Amar’e StoudemireAndrew Bynum, Nene.

Yet that’s hardly all of the NBA’s wounded. Here’s more of those who have been, still are or just got injured: Gerald Wallace, Gerald Henderson, Mario ChalmersDevin Harris, A.J. PriceNikola Pekovic, Kirk HinrichGrant Hill, J.J. Barea, Brandon Roy, Chase Budinger, Anthony Davis, Steve Blake, Brandon Rush, Darrell Arthur, Channing Frye, Landry Fields, Iman Shumpert, Alan Anderson, Luc Richard Mbah a Moute and Avery Bradley.

When Minnesota came to Dallas earlier this week with five players out (and Pekovic’s sprained ankle in the third quarter would make it six), coach Rick Adelman engaged in something of a “Who’s on First” rapid-fire Q & A with beat writer Jerry Zgoda.

Jerry: Who’s your backup 3 and your backup 2?

Rick: We don’t have a backup 3. I’m going to start Malcolm (Lee) tonight at the 2 and bring Alexey (Shved) off the bench at both spots. And then at the 3, I don’t know, we’re going to slide somebody there.

Jerry: Have to play AK (Andrei Kirilenko) 48 minutes?

Rick: I don’t want to do to that. We don’t need to wear him out, too.

Jerry: Can you get five or six (minutes) out of (assistant coach Terry) Porter?

Rick: I don’t think so.

A year ago, the worry around the league was how an abbreviated training camp following the hasty resolution to the lockout and then a compacted, 66-game schedule would affect player health. With a full, month-long camp this time around and a complete slate of eight preseason games, this spate of injuries is as unexpected as unfortunate.

Entering this weekend’s games, only the San Antonio Spurs and Oklahoma City Thunder among the league’s 30 teams boast clean injury reports, and 22 list more than one injured player.

When the Mavericks play the Indiana Pacers tonight, they expect to get Marion back after a five-game absence with a sprained left knee. Nowitzki will remain out as will Indiana’s Granger. For Dallas, it’s been a strange run of not only playing shorthanded, but facing teams with at least one starter sidelined. They played, in order: Toronto (Lowry), New York (Stoudemire), Charlotte (Henderson), Minnesota (Love, Rubio, Roy, Budinger) and Washington (Wall, Nene).

“The league’s not going to stop and wait for you,” Adelman said the other night about his team’s rash of injuries. “A lot teams are having the same issues with major injuries. As a coaching staff you can’t coach the people that aren’t there. You only can coach the people that are there.”

And so it goes in a very strange first month in the NBA.